Office highrise elevators COVID pinch point; long line-ups and delays feared

Office highrise elevators COVID pinch point; long line-ups and delays feared

Office highrise elevators COVID pinch point; long line-ups and delays feared

TORONTO — As tens of thousands of Canadian workers start preparing for a post-lockdown return to their offices, elevators have become a hot-button issue amid concerns about the potential for long line ups and frustrating waits to get up or down.

Highrise building operators in particular are trying to figure out how to ensure people can get to their office floors while maintaining adequate physical distancing recommended by health authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19.

While offices can be modified to ensure people keep sufficiently apart, getting them safely inside once they start coming back presents its own unique challenges.

“You never think of elevators as the pinch point of a building, but now, because of what we’re trying to do, it really becomes apparent that it is,” said Ron Isabelle, an engineer and longtime elevator consultant. “Elevators are becoming the bottle neck in the building.”

With many office buildings now all but empty, elevator cramming has not been a problem. However, as more people begin exchanging their improvised home offices for the real thing, the issue has taken on a new life, especially if there’s a return to near normal occupancy.

Most commercial elevators can carry about 10 to 12 people at a time but public health advice to stay at least two metres apart makes that kind of capacity unthinkable. As a result, anxious landlords are pondering how to flatten their own rush-hour curves as they model scenarios in which either two, three or four people would be allowed in a cab at any one time.

“Elevators are not designed for social distancing,” Isabelle said. “If a landlord says I have to get up to 95 per cent, it’s not going to happen. It’s physically impossible unless you have people who start lining up at the building at five in the morning and exit the building at 10 o’clock at night.”

One major employer, EY Canada whose downtown Toronto office tower is 42 storeys, said physical distancing requirements would likely reduce the amount of available office space by half.

As a result, the company, which would normally have around 1,900 employees in the office, was looking ahead to eventually having only around 800 or 900, with the rest working remotely, said Darryl Wright, an associate partner. The numbers of people in communal spaces such as kitchens would be restricted.

Initially, Wright said only about 85 staff would be brought in, obviating the need for staggered staff times to avoid pinch points, although employees will likely adjust their work schedules if needed. The bottom line is that employees feel safe and public health rules can be followed, he said.

“We’ll learn as we go,” Wright said. “We’re just going to phase it in. There’s no rushing this.”

If office staff do return in large numbers, limiting elevator passenger loads could require security staff and physical measures such as queue lines to ensure no crowding in lobbies, passageways or elevators.

Another measure that could be used to enforce distancing is to use load weighing device, which tells an elevator to ignore calls for a car when it reaches a set maximum occupancy of say two people. That means, for example, those on intermediate floors waiting to go up or down might hear devices with just a few people whirr past them without stopping.

One of the country’s largest office owners and operators, Toronto-based Cadillac Fairview said it was preparing for the pending transition back to the workplace. The company said it had been in touch with tenants to understand their needs and game plans.

In the interim, Cadillac Fairview said it was developing an approach that included signs asking for people to limit elevator occupancy and keep their distance once inside, physical barriers to manage queuing, and enhanced disinfection.

“Of course, in all of our planning we will respect local/provincial health guidelines,” the company said in an email.

Normally, the standard wait for an office elevator is around 35 seconds. Curtailing occupancy, especially for buildings that run 50 or more storeys, means wait times will soar.

“Definitely, people will have to wait longer for an elevator,” Isabelle said.

Lower-rise workplaces, like the Ontario legislature, said on Friday it would limit elevator occupancy to two people and put up relevant signage. It also encouraged people to take the stairs.

Keeping elevator buttons and escalator handrails clean is important given numerous studies have shown the surfaces are subject to viral and bacterial contamination. It’s not yet clear how much of a threat the novel coronavirus might pose to elevator users but it is known to survive on various surfaces.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 8, 2020.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Rimbey Christian School building projects nearing completion

New gym, soccer field and skating rink will be open to community use as well

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed eight additional virus-deaths Monday afternoon including one in central zone. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Central zone up to 1,249 active COVID-19 cases

Red Deer sits at 257 active COVID-19 cases

Kelowna RCMP Stock Image.
Bentley post office damaged, armed robbery at Subway

Sylvan Lake RCMP respond to incidents in Bentley last month

James Taylor of Rimbey has won $100,000 from a scratch ticket. (Photo submitted)
Rimbey winner scratches his way to $100,000 prize

James Taylor says store staff were almost more excited than he was

People line up at a COVID-19 assessment centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday, December 2, 2020. Toronto and Peel region continue to be in lockdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccine approval could be days away as pressures mount on health-care system

Many health officials in regions across the country have reported increasing pressures on hospitals

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Town Council squashes mask bylaw

The bylaw did not make it past first reading, after a 4-3 vote defeated the motion

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

A teacher places the finishing touches on the welcome sign at Hunter’s Glen Junior Public School which is part of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Sept. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Hindsight 2020: How do you preserve a year many Canadians would rather forget?

Figuring out how to preserve the story of the pandemic poses a series of challenges

Team Manitoba celebrate after defeating Team Ontario to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw, Sask., Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. Curling Canada wants Calgary’s Canada Olympic Park to be a curling hub for the season’s top events. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calgary facility set to become curling hub during pandemic

Curling Canada has provisional approval for Calgary’s hub-city concept from Alberta Health

Ash and Lisa Van carry a freshly cut Christmas tree while wearing personal protective masks at a Christmas Tree Farm in Egbert, Ontario, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Cole Burston
‘Everyone wants a tree and they want it now’: Christmas tree sales on pace for record

Anticipated demand for Christmas trees has sparked a rush by some to purchase more trees wholesale

Most Read